Mid-Week Poll: Is ‘Inception’ Brilliant or Overrated?

As the summer movie season draws to a close, one film stands pretty tall above the rest. Christopher Nolan’s ‘Inception’ is a critical favorite and (despite some early studio hand-wringing) a massive box office hit. There’s even Oscar buzz about it already. But not everyone has been so in love with the movie. I’m curious where our readers fall on the scale. Is ‘Inception’ brilliant or overrated? Vote after the break.

We know how our Drew Taylor feels about this. I don’t cover the theatrical beat myself and was a little late in getting around to seeing the movie until a few weeks into its run. Personally, on the first (and so far only) viewing, I liked the movie but didn’t love it. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that I pretty much hated most of the first half, which seems to be nothing but exposition, exposition, exposition, and then – just to be sure you didn’t miss anything – even more exposition. If the first rule of cinema is “Show, don’t tell,” ‘Inception’ plays more like “Tell tell tell tell tell tell tell tell tell tell tell tell tell… then show.” The Ellen Page character is a painfully transparent audience surrogate. Her role serves no purpose except to stand there so that other characters can explain to her (and thus to us in the audience) every single thing that happens.

I was also bothered by the fact that the way Nolan depicts dreams in the movie bears no resemblance whatsoever to real dreams. This year’s earlier ‘Shutter Island‘ (also starring Leonardo DiCaprio) does a much better job of replicating dream logic, in my opinion.

With that said, once the second half of the movie rolls around, Nolan finally lets ‘Inception’ break loose. All that painful exposition finishes serving its purpose. The climax of the film, which deftly juggles multiple layers of narrative, is really a pretty stunning achievement.

So, overall, I thought that ‘Inception’ is a pretty good movie, but also kind of overrated. I look forward to revisiting it on Blu-ray to see how much (if at all) that opinion changes with a second viewing.

Where do you stand?

Is 'Inception' Brilliant or Overrated?

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  1. BostonMA

    of course, i think the film is layered and layered in brilliance. IMO, all the exposition was completely necessary to keep the story in one movie instead of a 5-10 film series, and i think that the Dream Tutorial with Leo and Ellen Page would’ve been completely flawed and completely painful as an audience pod IF the only plot movements happening at that (and the rest of those) time with her, but since we get so much more interest into Cobb’s demons, who make no mistake, IS the number one star/character/audience pod of the movie, it is ALL ultimately unflawed and waranted and it makes up another amazing piece of storytelling for Nolan.

    also Josh, dream logic seeming to be the same as reality was one of Nolan’s biggest goals and one of Inception’s biggest strengths in that that point was as we all know, to display how dreams FEEL the same as reality while we’re in them and well, when you have a futuristic dream machine that makes them i don’t know how much more vivid, you have yourself layers upon layers (like the movie’s brilliance) of reality that may actually be dreams and layers upon layers of dreams that may actually be…reality.

    it’s different when pictures like Shutter Island and Spellbound blatantly show the audience the dream that exists out of reality then when something like Nolan’s epic synthesizes the two together to make it almost (or perhaps, entirely) impossible to extricate one from the other.

    so in adding to my other posts of the summer, i fully agree with Drew and Aaron in that i feel it’s one of the best films of the new century. Nolan has been and will continue to be one of my favorite directors for a big reason. 🙂

  2. JoeRo

    I liked Inception, it easily bested the last movie I had seen in theaters prior to this (ugh The Last Airbender) in terms of entertainment value, but I didn’t think it was particularly great. Inception has kind of an neat idea if you don’t really think about it too hard and plenty of shooty ‘sploding action, but once the credits rolled the ride was over and I went on with my life.

    Let me reiterate, I enjoyed inception it was fun and had a decent premise. I just didn’t get all the hoopla, and I still don’t frankly. I’ve seen an alarming number of films comparing it to Blade Runner in terms of what the film explores, the use of science fiction as a storytelling form blah blah blah. Frankly I just don’t see the similarities. Bladerunner is science fiction in the purest sense, in that it’s exploring ideas of humanity, destiny, free will, creationism (not in the hotly debated religious sense), identity, longing … the list goes on. In my reading of Inception it’s basically an Ocean’s 11 style heist film slathered with a thin veneer of Science Fiction. At best it uses the genre as a kind of backdrop for the smash and grab story, at worst (and I’m not saying that this is necessarily the case) it’s exploiting sci-fi to generate half-cocked armchair philosophizing.

    If that seems harsh well, it is. I think Inception has more in common with Total Recall than it does with Bladerunner, although Recall doesn’t seem to be surrounded with the same air of artistic pretension as Inception.(for the record I love Total Recall) The same questions raised in Recall can basically be applied to Inception ad nauseam. Was it a dream, was it real, is Quaid (Cobb) just strapped to a chair lobotomized etc.? In the end these questions don’t really matter because we’re talking about an action film. I think all the exposition that Josh is talking about is what probably throws people for a loop. “Oh there’s talking? And nothings ‘sploded for 30 minutes? This must be an existential masterpiece.” To me dissecting this film is an exercise about as useful as dissecting Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. That is to say, not useful. Not even a little bit.

    • Scott

      Aww… I loved the last shot! It was great, and I think a lot of people miss what’s so great about it!


      This was much more apparent to me on the second viewing, but once Cobb was done with the dream one of the first things he’d do would be to spin the top. Nolan was great at showing us this very subtly throughout the movie. The only blatant time we see him do this is the first time, and we’re unaware of it’s importance. The rest of the time Nolan has something else going on that’s distracting the viewer, and more importantly Cobb. Also, the only times he isn’t spinning the top is right after he comes out of one of his own dreams when he’s visiting his wife.

      Back to the last shot… usually I can’t stand shots like this because they usually are a gimmick. I don’t like being left hanging on something that the characters will know in just a few minutes. The great thing about this shot in Inception is who specifically is watching the top. Once Cobb spins the top, he sees his kids and runs over to them. The top is left spinning and him, his kids, and Michael Caine all are leaving the room. The camera then zooms in and the audience is then nudged to focus on the top… kind of an OMG it’s still spinning!! The point though is that we’re the only ones caring about this. The top is only important to us as Cobb has accepted his reality and is choosing to spend time with his kids then argue over whether everything is real or not.

      END SPOILERS!!!!

  3. BambooLounge

    I didn’t vote, but would have if there was an option reading “Brilliant, but still overrated.”

    I really enjoyed the film and the fact that you can riff on how things go (Is it all a dream?) and all that afterward. Ellen Page’s character was the fly in the ointment though for me as I detailed in the Inception thread in the forum. Other than that, I think Nolan crafted an excellent cold action movie. There is not much in way of human emotion, but that tends to be his thing and I like it (for him). It made sense that his dream world would be more cerebral than anything seen before because that is his trademark.

    Nolan makes films were the craftsmanship is excellent and things are thought out wonderfully, but there is no real emotional connection with his films. They are perfect for cinephiles b/c we can enjoy them for what they are and they seem like high art to the less cinematically inclined (TDK and Inception) b/c they are not typical LOUD NOISE action movies, but they do have action.

    So yea…brilliant, but still overrated. It is not my favorite of the year and contrary to what many believe it is very very far from the best of all-time.

    • BostonMA

      i agree that it definitely is not the very best movie ever made but i do seriously think (what else right?) that it’s very high up there, though i’m not even sure if i think it’s his best (the deliriousness is just about over and once i see viewing #3 i’ll know for sure whether or not it’s better than TDK but as of now, i say it is).

      as of now, i’d put it in the Top 100 and almost surely Top 50. viewing #3 will also bring to light whether or not it’s perfect.

  4. I thought ‘Inception’ was highly overrated. It was a fun little heist movie, but I just don’t see the depth.

    People called out ‘Inception’ for being mind bending and difficult to understand, but I just don’t see it – especially since it’s from the director who brought us ‘Memento.’

    The part of ‘Inception’ that worked for me is when the characters got into Limbo. That’s when we got to see the fun dreamy stuff instead of the dull action movie stuff. I feel like the movie didn’t deliver on its promise.

    I don’t think the movie was bad by any means, but the more I think about it, the less I like it.

  5. Bryan

    I thought it was great. Christopher Nolan is one of the few filmmakers left who like to make an audience think. Yes – there was a lot of exposition in the first half, but compared to most movies (especially summer movies), you really had to pay attention to what was going on to fully understand it. Can’t wait for the Blu-Ray!

    • BambooLounge

      “Compared to most movies (especially summer movies)…”

      That is what Nolan has been coasting on since Batman Begins. He is a great director, don’t get me wrong, but he has also become the biggest fish in the smallest pond in terms of his films and when he releases them.

      He is basically the only true auteur being given blockbuster money to make a huge film for summer release. Hence, everything he makes gets grossly overrated (TDK!) because you get all these summer bloclbuster people thinking he is the 2nd coming of Orson Welles (themselves having likely never even seen Citizen Kane). So it leads to a reactionary brush-back by serious film fans/critics who get annoyed by the uninformed, but extremely loud opinions of such people.

      When approached with a tempered mind, Nolan is an excellent director. He makes excellent films that on some levels make the audience think (TDK not so much). He still has not fully grasped action direction, but has made great strides in Inception from where he was with TDK.

      Personally, I’d like to see him get back to something not based on a comic book or meant as an action movie. Something like The Prestige would be nice since I know he’ll never go back to making as small a movie as The Following or Memento (my Nolan favorites).

      • BostonMA

        i think you’re underrating Nolan a tad Bamboo. Nolan makes the big budgeted movies when his ideas call for it (he wanted to make Inception around 2000 but had to prove to WB that the juice was worth the squeeze with him) and the smaller budgeted ones when his ideas call for it and i think everyone can agree that a truly epic and “to end all” Superhero trilogy needs to be full of cash and lined up for the Summer.

        now, you and i of course had a great back and forth argument a couple months ago but i’m a little surprised to see you say it’s brilliant but overrated here, unless you actually feel that the high majority of the film world believes it to be the best of all time.

        as much as i love Nolan, i never thought to think of him as the second coming of Orson Welles until you said it but really, i think that’s pretty fittingly. he’s NOT Orson Welles, and there will never be another Orson Welles, but for our generation, i think Nolan is our Orson Welles. 🙂

        the only BIG difference between the two (as of now, hopefully it stays this way) is that Nolan has been having fantastic luck with WB and his producers vs. Welles who was agonized by them.

        i’m with you more or less though. i would love to see (and i bet it will happen) Nolan go back to the more independent area of filmmaking (still A-List, somewhere in the middle of then and now) bur i’m completely fine with him doing whatever it is he wants to do.

  6. BambooLounge

    Bos…I know we tend to disagree with Nolan and just how good he really is.

    Like I said, I think he is a fantastic director. But, I am still waiting for him to really show me something completely different. His strengths thus far lie with structuring a film. A great skill to have, but his cold style leaves a lot off the table that the greatest filmmakers keep on.

    I never find myself connecting with his films on any level beyond simply analyzing them. With the greatest directors they suck even the most scholarly of viewers on some other level besides study of the film.

    My go to examples for what I am talking about are Taxi Driver and Raging Bull. In each film, there is a very powerful narrative. More than just what is on the screen. Raging Bull is not simply the story of a fighter, but very dark film about humanity itself (how are we human? Are some less human?) and family relationships. In Taxi Driver, we do not simply get a vigilante flick (copies of this film gen. settle for this), but a ground zero look at NYC in the 70s, all the filth and grime of the city. It destroyed the Hollywood majesty of NYC and showed it for what it was at the time. It also made the city itself a character.

    Nolan has yet to do anything like the above. His feats are structural feats (Memento, The Following, Prestige). He uses cinematic structure in inventive ways, to trick, prod and excite the audience on a very cerebral level. But, really, like a magic show, afterward there is not much to debate or discuss aside from the process. Inception, Batman Begins, TDK, are all very ambitious blockbusters that rise above “mere blockbusters” by virtue of his craftsmanship and attention to detail. But, again, they do not engage the audience on a real level (I contend that comic book movies by virtue of their source material never really can). Inception is a brilliant film…technically. But, really, who gives a shit if Leo does or does not get back to his kids. The only things we know about the character are what Ellen Page lectured to us. The brilliance of the film is its conceit of making us question reality (very interesting), but there is nothing there that looking back I think one will say, “This was unheard of until Inception came out.” Like they do with most of Welles’ work (he was a revolutionary filmmaker, Nolan has not yet done anything like that).

    Welles was a wunderkind, Nolan is not and likely never will be, but hey, wunderkind are as rare as they come. I think Nolan has some sort of masterpiece in him, he is that good, but I don’t think we have seen it just yet.

    As for why I still think Inception is overrated. For starters, it is not even Nolan’s best film. In too many ways it follows simple action film formulas (the whole multiple wake-up bit, was just a layered ticking time bomb tension trick) and Ellen Page (just horrible). It took me thinking about the film for a while after seeing it to realize just how useless and her character really is (if taking the film literally), hence I bypassed it to go with the “all a dream” interpretation I love so much.

    Wow…this post ran really long, sorry.

    • JoeRo

      “But, again, they do not engage the audience on a real level (I contend that comic book movies by virtue of their source material never really can”

      Wow, pretty broad generalization there. Just curious Bam which comics have you read or are familiar with that have led you to come to such a … let’s say “limited” point of view?

      • BambooLounge

        I don’t read comic books anymore. But, I see your point, I mean there are tons of types of comic books. Allow me to specify slightly and rephrase that “super hero movies” instead of the blanket “comic book.”

        Super hero comics/movies are all action or stereotypical origin stories (troubled youth comes to terms with super powers). I’ve yet to watch a single super hero movie that really had anything original to say about the human condition or at least an original take thereon. It is always very much in broad strokes.

        • JoeRo

          Agreed. I don’t really read comics anymore these days, but I still like to browse at my neighborhood shop and every now and then I find a trade worth picking up (most recently The Pro).

          It’s a shame that comics still seem, for the most part, stuck in the superhero format. Endless tales of immortal characters with no lasting consequences removes any kind of drama that these books, and their film counterparts, could possibly hope to inject into their stories.

          Sorry to nit pick, but I’m still just involved enough in the comics community to know that there are some gems here and there to be found.

    • BostonMA

      long posts are fine by me, especially when they’re a good friend of mine on the boards.

      yeah, i meant to quickly add one the Welles thing. as of now, i LIKE Nolan more and he’s closer to the favorite of my favorites than Welles is, but that doesn’t mean in any way that i think he’s a better filmmaker than Welles was and i would not and do not think that. it’s difficult though, to say that Nolan hasn’t done what Welles did in being a revolutionary since being able to be revolutionary today in film is damn near impossible, and in that lies one of the colossal differences of Classic and Modern Cinema. so if being pretty original, genre bending, and breath of fresh air releasing in today’s film industry can compare to being revolutionizing and completely original in the business 70-50 years ago, i can definitely see the comparison and the recognition/compliment for Nolan.

      i do think this is the first time that you fully explained your position on Nolan and the emotion/heart he includes/leaves out (depending on how you look at it) and that you choose the cold side. that’s completely fine and i can completely see and understand that. i for one am on what appears to be the small minority in believing almost all of his films with the exception of Following to be emotionally resonant. perhaps i’m just a softie.

      • BambooLounge

        Yeah, the whole generational thing makes it tough to compare apples to apples. But, I think there are directors working today that really push things in new directions (Wong Kar-Wai is my current favorite as I “discover” him) and are making modern masterpieces (PTA w/There Will Be Blood).

        PTA is a great example of someone who started making excellent pictures (Boogie Nights, Magnolia), but relied on homage (Altman and Scorsese) just enough that he had not made a singular masterpiece. Then there was There Will Be Blood…and well, yeah. It was fresh and new and I think history will be very kind to it…total dedication to a single emotion on film (greed) as personified through Daniel Plainview. Plainview is like a disaster in a disaster movie (a whole other topic of discussion/review).

        • BostonMA

          yeah PTA really is something else. i don’t know why he isn’t one of my favorites because i consider PD-L and TWBB to be masterpieces with Boogie Nights being awful close to one. i guess i’ll keep saying what i’ve been saying in that he’s my favorite non-favorite but yeah, TWBB was quite a different thing but then again, it has many references in it’s style and overall look to that of the silent era so really, i can’t see anything being truly out of left field original today.

          but TWBB comes close, though i PERSONALLY think Inception does too.

          and i liked Chungking Express a lot but don’t consider it to be a great film. maybe i have to watch it again

  7. Scott

    I think people are trying to fit Nolan into something that he isn’t. I’ve heard comparisons in this thread to Welles and PTA. Sure you can compare him to these guys, but I see him more closer to Speilberg than anyone else. He’s a populist director who’s making unconventional films. Even Memento seemed like a very mainstream independent film.

    Nolan is making films that we all want to see in ways that haven’t existed before in the mainstream. Unfortunately, this often comes with baggage which is usually in some form of exposition. I don’t mind this as much when we’re treated to some of the amazing stuff that Nolan will later unleash upon us. I think there’s plenty of stuff to disect and close read in Inception, and I can’t wait to get my hands on the Blu-ray to dive in.

    • BambooLounge

      I’d say Nolan is the anti-$pielberg if anything. I mean, $ is all about making movies that ooze sentimentality. They are easy movies.

      Nolan tries in his own calculated ways to make the audience thing and reconsider what they are watching or have just watched (Batman movies aside). Before Batman, I’d say he was far from a populist director as the majority of lay person moviegoers (as opposed to cinemaphiles)never knew the director. I don’t have the box office numbers or anything on The Prestige, but from my recollection, there was no internet fanboy buzz on it like there has been on Nolan since Batman Begins straight through to Inception.

      $ is a mainstream populist director who makes sentimental easy movies, but does so with great directorial skill. He is an excellent director technically, but not a daring one.

      Nolan is a daring director in terms of narrative structuring, but not as strong as $ in the more mainstream aspects of cinema (still has trouble with big action sequences). I don’t think there is an adequate comparison to make with Nolan. He is good enough to stand alone, but not yet good enough to stand atop.